Thursday, March 6, 2014

Susan McMaster, from Crossing Arcs

Crossing Arcs

I am lost, Mother
in the spaces you leave behind
              I cannot even see
                      a shadow there to

        I have no way to comfort you in the
        empty room                           
        your mind now is            
          doors and windows    
          blinds hung

I don’t think I have Alzheimer’s.
My memory is my own and I’m
going to keep it.

Refusing the Bait

Suddenly, over a supper
of haddock and greens.
“Why won’t you let me finish
what I’m saying?” she snaps at him.
“You act like I’m stupid and old.

“And you – you never listen!”
Why are you always telling me what to do?
I can look after myself !”

I’m stuck, fork in air,
mushroom dripping sauce.

“Of course you can,” he says.
“You tell her off. Your daughter’s
always been bossy.”

The arguments they’ve had
for so many years
about science and religion,
politics and art
are done. He no longer
leaps into the fray.
Refuses any bait.
Speaks as he does
to me, when I cry.

“I don’t want to go back,”
she says to him then.

“Don’t worry,” he tells her.
“You don’t have to leave.
Stay as long as you want.
There’s no rush at all.”

I had to get angry. There’s
anger and fear, one or the
other, and I choose anger.
Anger is what keeps you alive.

Skeletoning Down

What use is a label?
This season “Type 2,”
next “OCD” or “Alzheimer’s” –
all glowers to fill a garden
of named despair.

No animal would bother.
A dog struck by sugar shock
simply lies down,
a cat with growing cancer
creeps away mute.

Words birth guilt –
blame – remorse –
when all this really is
is one way to fall

leaf among leaves

So they finally put a fancy
name onto something that we
considered to be just getting
old. Nuts to this. My mind is
not going to play games with me.
Who does it think it is?


She takes off her boots.
Coat still buttoned,
turns from the hall
into the apartment
she left a week before.

Steps through the arch
into the living room.

Her hands come together.
Fold around each other
as if against cold.

The couch is gone.
Her lamp.
Her chair.
The floor a mess
of movers’ tracks.
A few more steps.

She stops.
Bends her head
into my shoulder.

I put my arms around her –

her hands, between us,
still closed around something
no-one can hold.
Acceptance and loss. Holding on
to life and what it was.

True Reckoning

This wandering, where she hits
the walls of her room –
north not where it should be,
sun gone from windows
that used to be filled.

Her square’s moved sideways
and halfway around.

How can I turn this space
to face into summer –
towards the homes she knew,
where north was straight ahead,
east was morning,
west afternoon,
and south what held
when all else dimmed?

In February shade
as I close the door behind me,
I leave her askew,
triangulated into a corner
at the back of a crooked building
that can’t be understood

skidding out of control
as the map folds up
to a darkened point.         

What does it feel like? Pods.
Skyhooks. Parachutes suspended
between sky and earth. Like I’m
in a space station detached from
everything and all the memories
are little threads trying to bring
me back.

Looking behind the Words

Crosswords and cyberquotes
consume her mornings.
Mornings too hungry without that meal.
Small leaps, small successes
are snacks and sustenance
against the hollow
that sucks the words away.

She looks up. “Hi –
What could this be –
nine letters – begins
and ends with ‘t’.
Boisterous, overbearing,
a virago, a shrew – ”

“Termagant?” I ask.
She grins. “That’s me.”

If I must live husked like a nut,
dammit you’ll hear me rattle and
shake in my shell!

From Crossing Arcs: Alzheimer’s, my mother, and me (Black Moss 2009-10). Photos by Marty Gervais. Verbatim quotes from my mother Betty Page. All material © the creators, published with permission. Crossing Arcs was shortlisted for the Archibald Lampman, Acorn-Plantos People’s Poetry, and Ottawa Book awards. Susan McMaster is author or editor of 20 books,  anthologies, and wordmusic recordings with First Draft, SugarBeat, and Geode Music & Poetry. McMaster is a former president of the League of Canadian Poets. <>

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